CORONAVIRUS AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES IN THE WORKPLACE
As employers, we want to do all we can to promote the health and safety of our employees. In the workplace, we are responsible for protecting their health, as well as the health of customers, clients, patients and visitors who enter that workplace. What do employers need to know and what actions should they take as we monitor the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus and the flu?
First, you should be proactive and not wait to develop your response plan. Second, you have a responsibility to communicate frequently and clearly with employees about your efforts to protect them and the business. As you put together your plan and policies to combat illness and protect employee health, consider the following points.
Prevent the Spread of Germs in the Workplace
How are you stopping the spread of germs in the workplace? Review and formalize your plan to ensure the worksite remains clean. Common areas should be cleaned regularly and thoroughly. Do employees have access to hand sanitizer and tissues? Can emails, phone calls or video chats be substituted for in-person meetings? Post flyers in break rooms about effective hand-washing methods and share information from respected sources with employees about how to prevent the spread of germs.
Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home
The truth is that many employees come to work while they’re sick, either because of the pressure to complete projects or because they feel their employer frowns upon employees missing work. Employers need to recognize this and encourage employees to prioritize their health and the health of coworkers over work responsibilities. Can you help find solutions when an employee is out to cover their workload? If you offer PTO or sick leave, remind your employee to use these benefits.
If an employee demonstrates symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue, do not hesitate to send them home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever. It is not just the health of the individual employee at stake; it is the health of everyone on the team.
Business Continuity Plan
How will you ensure your business functions continue and are not interrupted if team members are ill and unable to work, or if your worksite is closed? In many ways you should approach your preparations for an infectious disease event as you would a natural disaster. Anthros created a Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan so we could continue to serve clients without interruption in the event of a hurricane, and this plan is our blueprint for handling any event or situation that disrupts client service.
Consider how you will continue business operation with limited staff. Have you considered temporary telecommuting arrangements for employees? Anthros can help clients craft a temporary telecommuting policy that clearly defines the arrangement, guidelines and parameters.
Create an Infectious Disease Control Policy
Many if not most employers have policies in their employee handbooks describing how they handle severe weather and emergency closings. Why not create an Infectious Disease Control policy too? The purpose of an Infectious Disease Control policy is to describe clearly what processes will be followed to protect employees. It defines what employees can expect from the employer and what the employer expects from employees. Handbooks are a primary tool for communicating to your employees and including a policy on this topic lets team members know you are being proactive and that their health and wellbeing is your top concern.
Compliance and Legal Concerns
Employers should also evaluate how their plan minimizes liability and addresses privacy issues. Remember that the privacy of an employee’s medical information is protected by law, which means that an employer must keep confidential the name of anyone infected. This must be balanced with the need to notify employees that a disease risk exists and that employees should monitor their health. In addition, employers need to make sure their response keeps them in compliance with the ADA. Though coronavirus and flu are not considered disabilities that require reasonable accommodation under the ADA, the law’s prohibition against discrimination does still apply.
We recommend employers who are not PEO clients should consult with their attorney to make sure their policies minimize liability and keep them in compliance with state and federal regulations.
**Note to clients: Anthros is monitoring the coronavirus outbreak closely and is positioned to respond quickly and aggressively to new recommendations and legislation, including payroll tax relief. In addition, we have our own business continuity plan so we can process payroll and serve clients without interruption. We recommend all employers follow updates on coronavirus.gov.
If any of your employees are still being paid by check, we ask for your help in encouraging them to change their payment method to Direct Deposit or Paycard immediately. We want to ensure your employees are paid without interruption, and Direct Deposit and Paycards are the most effective, efficient way to do this. We do not want an employee’s ability to receive and cash their checks be affected by closures and quarantines. Employees should contact Anthros to change their payment method.
About the Author
Lisa King-Corbin, PHR, is the Director of Risk Management at Anthros.